Where Steamboats used to go…

Hello, folks.   Alice and I are ‘back down home’ again, in the Deep South of East Texas.   A few days ago, we had an opportunity to take a Fall Boat Trip up an old historic waterway of mid-1800’s America… Big Cypress Bayou with our destination being the historic Steamboat City of Jefferson, TX.   And what a trip!   This is the Ark-La-Tex area, full of history that centers around Texas Independence, French Cajuns, the Louisiana ‘Neutral Strip’, bad Outlaws, and… music, like KWKH’s 1950’s “Louisiana Hayride”.

In the years 1845 – 1872, the city of Jefferson, TX, on Big Cypress Bayou, was one of the the most important Ports in the State of Texas.   Our Fall 2016 Boat Trip took us over a small portion of the same route that the Steamboats used to take in getting to Jefferson, coming from places like Shreveport, New Orleans and even St. Louis.   It should be noted, in those days that the water level of the connected lakes & bayous was perhaps 10 feet higher than today, due to “the Great Red River Raft” that caused a major backup of water starting South of Shreveport, raising river levels upstream & enabling river traffic all the way to Jefferson.   Shreveport, LA is named after the man that in 1838 cleared ‘The Great Raft’, Captain Henry Miller Shreve.   Indeed, my Alma Mater, Louisiana State University – Shreveport (LSU-S) adopted The Pilots as their Mascot… referring to the early Steamboat River Pilots that that traveled the Red River and related bayous, transportinng freight and passengers. 

Our route this trip, as shown on the map below, started at the landing under the TX Hwy 43 bridge where it crosses over Big Cypress Bayou, to Jefferson, about an estimated 20 miles by water upstream.   Click on the map to zoom in more closely… or move locations… or pan out to a more broad view. 


The bridge in the below picture is the TX Hwy 43 bridge, next to the landing where we put in.   Our trip was taken in late October… and the brownish colors are showing definite Fall.

The view as we pulled out in our 23' pontoon boat...

The view as we pulled out in our 23′ pontoon boat… we saw a number of Canoers and Kayakers on our trip. The bridge is for Texas Hwy 43, adjacent to Caddo lake State Park, close to Karnack, TX   Click on any Picture to expand it to larger size.

Steamboats would have not gotten under this bridge… South of here is another river… the Sabine River, known for defining the Louisiana Neutral Strip, land in the early 1800’s that was disputed by the New Americans and the the Spanish Government that owned this part of Texas.   It became a very lawless territory

We’re off… and moving to the North & West, upstream towards Jefferson. 

Moving upstream on Big Cypress Bayou.

Moving upstream on Big Cypress Bayou.   Click on Picture to expand.


You can clearly see the channel – but note the big clump of cypress trees… directly in the middle.   Riverboat Captains & Pilots must have earned their money… or they would not have lasted very long.

Cypress dead ahead...

Cypress tree dead ahead… Click on Picture to expand.


Recreational opportunities along Big Cypress Bayou are enormous… and there are some beautiful homes – but note that all homes (err… um… surviving homes) are located on stilts about 8 – 15 feet above the shoreline. Floods & highwater DO happen here… 

Houses built along the waterway... Notice the stilts.

Houses built along the waterway… Notice the stilts under the houses… Click on Picture to expand.

Most of these homes above are just beautiful… In Louisiana, there is something about living on the water… boating… the early French-speaking Cajuns loved this kind of territory, which is more prevalent in the Mississippi River delta, and along the Gulf Coast.

This is just one of many & numerous side channels… quiet, peaceful… mysterious…  

Side channels... off the main waterway.

Side channels… off the main waterway.   Click on Picture to expand.

In the 1830’s & 1840’s, many Americans ‘migrated’ into Texas thru this area via the Bayou.   Texas Independence was declared in March of 1836, after the ‘battle ‘of Goliad… and about the time of The Alamo… and a few weeks later, San Jacinto.   

Wildlife abounds.   This Blue Heron heard us coming… and took flight. 

A Blue Heron saw us coming... and took flight.

A Blue Heron saw us coming… and took flight.   Click on Picture to expand.


There are still re-occurring snags in the river…   Indeed, on our trip we hit a fully submerged one – the motor propeller guard protected our prop, but all of us in the boat took a good tumble.

And 'snags' in the River Way...

And ‘snags’ in the River Way… Click on Picture to expand.


This red brick building dates back to the Civil War – It was a Confederate Powder Magazine, used to store gunpowder manufactured in nearby Marshall, TX,  for the Confederacy.   No fighting ever happened here, as the Union troops were not able to get upstream past Mansfield, LA, on the Red River.

Jefferson's Confederate Powder Magazine

Jefferson’s Confederate Powder Magazine… one of few remaining in the country.   Click on Picture to expand.

The Civil War left this area of Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas with some very bad Outlaws… The little Texas town of Bloomburg every year celebrates a ‘Robin Hood” outlaw, also known for shooting Yankees… in their “The Annual Cullen Baker Country Fair“.    Alice and I attended this year (1st Saturday in Nov) and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Cullen Baker was in fact a bad Outlaw… who’s gang killed 50-60 people… and himself was eventually killed and buried in Jefferson, TX

We are approaching Jefferson, Texas.

Approaching Jefferson, Texas.

Approaching Jefferson, Texas.   Click on Picture to expand.


Below is a 10-picture slide show of pictures of Jefferson, Texas.


After a good BBQ lunch… and some shopping… back to our boat.   No head of steam here… but a wonderful way to float the bayous.

Our 'River Boat'... at the Jefferson landing.

Time to return… Our ‘River Boat’… at the Jefferson landing.   Click on Picture to expand.


Heading back, these friendly turtles are looking at where we’ve been… and a little up.

Turtles... What are they looking at?

Turtles… What are they looking at?   Click on Picture to expand.


This little guy was looking at his friends on the first log.   Note his reflection.

This friendly little turtle didn't budge as we  cruised closer..

This friendly little turtle didn’t budge as we cruised closer… note his reflection in the water. And what is he staring at?   Click on Picture to expand.


Wide open waterway… no Steamboats coming.   Clear sailing. 

Heading back downstream...

Heading back downstream… getting close to our original departure Landing at Texas Hwy 43.   Click on Picture to expand.

In sailing these smooth waters… had a moment to remember back to when Alice and I were kids in the 1950’s, living in Texarkana… (We never met until years later in 1971).   At that time radio station KWKH, in closeby Shreveport, LA, was a 50,000 Watt powerhouse AM Radio Station heard in 28 States… and that broadcast Country music of the time… and the “Louisiana Hayride“, where Elvis Presley and Johnny Horton got their start.   Before the Hayride, KWKH was famous for it’s radio personality, “W. K. Henderson” and his ” Hello, World, Doggone, Ya! ” start to his radio show.

Returning just past our landing point, we found this large bayou close to Caddo Lake State Park… just beautiful in the late afternoon setting sun.   We decided to go in. 

Another side channel... just one of dozens that we saw.

Another side channel… Our last one on this trip.   We side-tripped into it.   Click on Picture to expand.


Beautiful Cypress Trees… with hanging moss… and a white Heron looking for an evening meal. 

Look closely... there is a White Heron in he very middle of the picture.

Look closely… there is a White Heron in he very middle of the picture. We saw many of these birds.   Click on Picture to expand.


This picture is taken from the inside of the bayou as we’re heading back out, with a full setting sun shining on the Fall foliage. 

Note the beautiful cypress trees...

Note the beautiful cypress trees… Fall Colors… in the evening sunset.   Click on Picture to expand.


Pulling in at our landing point.   Just downstream from here, is a wonderful Catfish Restaurant on the Bayou (stilts)… Riverbend Restaurant…. which a few days later we DID make it to!

We have reached our original departure point...

We have reached our original departure point… the Texas Hwy 43 bridge.   Click on Picture to expand.

That concludes our boat trip up Big Cypress Bayou.   What a beautiful part of the Ark-la-Tex… Thank you for reading.   Any questions or comments please feel free to contact us!  

Jim & Alice LaPeer

To view a full-screen, high-resolution slideshow of Where Steamboats used to go., click the ‘curved arrow‘ just below the picture on the right.   To return to normal display, hit [Esc] key.   Otherwise, place cursor over the picture to display the slideshow control buttons.   Comments are Welcomed!


18 thoughts on “Where Steamboats used to go…

    • Thanks, Mo. This really was a fun & interesting boat trip… lots of good History back in the East Texas part of the country.

  1. Jim;
    You never disappoint! You’ve saved me thousands in travel expenses over the past couple of years through your recap of travel adventures.

    • Thanks for the kind words, John! I must admit, Alice and I are having a ball with this motorhome stuff. Hope all is well for you. Drop me a line update sometime on how being a Treasurer is still going. You are a good one!

    • Thanks, Gordon. I’ll see what we can do about them turtles… still can’t figure out what they were lined up and looking at.

    • Hi Greg & Suzy!

      Hope all is well down in Arizona… beginning to get cold here in Michigan. All is well here, but it will be nice when we get to the SouthWest in January… and see you guys then!

    • Thanks, Sandi and Nullet – and good to hear from you folks! East Texas is a beautiful place, especially in the Fall when it is not so hot.

      Hope all is well for you folks… would love to get together again sometime. Take care,
      Jim & Alice.

    • You bet, Ron. Good to hear from you folks. We hope the Son’s business is going well. We will be in Yuma AZ this winter… just in case you folks get that way.

    • Hi, Ann Marie!

      Great to hear from you! Hope all is well in the Township Treasurer’s Business. Yes, my wife and I are doing quite well. Currently back home in Michigan for a grandchild to be born… with our motorhome stored in Texas for the duration. We expect to be in Arizona in January again… We love traveling and being retired! If you ever get close to where we are at… would love to get together sometime.

    • Hi, Gary – Great to hear from you!

      Yes, this part of Texas (East Texas) is not what most people think when it comes to ‘Texas’. It is actually quite nice rural country, very pleasant… except in the Summer when the Temps & Humidity hit about 100%. Do you still have that 5th wheel I recall talking about? Keep us in mind if you ever do some traveling… be nice to hook up some time.

  2. That is cool! Never pictured Texas that way….. Pictured it more dry… lol

    Its voters day…… where is this country going?

    • Hi John! Yea… I have enjoyed the response to this post… as many folks think of Texas as dry… hot… deserty… Which it generally is, just not here.

      As for voters day… yup! I think I am going to swear off politics.

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